Soldier’s Home by Ernest Hemingway
In Soldier’s Home by Ernest Hemingway we have the theme of fear, connection, experience, isolation, simplicity, faith and conformity. Taken from his The Complete Short Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and from the beginning of the story the reader realises that Hemingway may be exploring the theme of conformity. In the first paragraph of the story Hemingway describes a photograph of Krebs with his class mates. Each boy wearing ‘exactly the same height and style collar.’ This line is important as the photograph is pre-war and shows that there was a time when Krebs was able to connect or conform with his peers. However it is also noticeable that Krebs did not receive the ‘greeting of heroes after war’ that his fellow soldiers received on their return. In many ways this suggests that Krebs is no longer seen as being part of the town or as conforming as the other soldiers who returned to town. His delay in returning (a year later) has ensured that he is not considered to be part of the norm within the town when it comes to the soldiers who fought in WWI.
Anderson also appears to be exploring the theme of connection. By having Krebs lie about his time during that war Hemingway may be highlighting Krebs’ need to be heard by others in town. Even if the stories he is telling are a lie. What is also interesting about Krebs’ lies are that they also highlight the experiences of the men who fought in the war. Even if those experiences aren’t Krebs. It is also interesting that when Krebs talks to other soldiers in the town the predominant memory for him of the war is how frightened (fear) he was. Krebs also appears to isolate himself from others. Something that is noticeable by his continued practicing of his clarinet at home, his reading alone on his front porch and his sleeping late in bed. There is no connection with any other individual. It may also be significant that Hemingway tells the reader ‘nothing had changed in the town except that the young girls had grown up.’ It is possible that by introducing this line into the story Hemingway is suggesting or highlighting the state of paralysis that exists for Krebs while living in the town.
It is also noticeable that everybody in the town, with the exception of Krebs, feels able to live their lives and move on. It is also interesting that despite his detachment from others, Krebs still has an interest in looking at the girls in the town. Which may suggest he longs to make a connection with the girls in the town though lacks the ‘energy or courage’ to do so. Krebs also doesn’t want the difficulties that come with courting a girl. He would prefer the process to be simpler. Hemingway telling the reader that Krebs ‘he would have liked to have a girl but he did not want to have to spend a long time getting her. He did not want to get into the intrigue and the politics. He did not want to have to do any courting.’ The sentence structure of these three lines may be important as by introducing three short sentences all containing ‘did not want’ Hemingway may be placing an emphasis on Kerbs’ needs and how adamant (or strong willed) he is. It may also be case that Hemingway is highlighting how difficult Krebs is finding it to reconnect with others (girls) in the town.
The fact that so many of the people in the town want to hear about what happened during the war is also interesting as there is a sense that for many of them it may have been a novelty and that they have very little understanding for the hardships that a soldier would endure while fighting. It is these hardships which Kerbs feels unable to let go of. He is unable to live his life as normally as he had prior to going to war. The war has not changed those in the town but it has changed Kerbs. This is probably one of the reasons as to why he is unable to connect with others. His experiences of war have left him scarred.
The end of the story is also interesting as Hemingway appears to be exploring the theme of faith. Krebs finds it difficult to pray with his mother and rather than praying with her, she prays for him. It is also interesting that when Kerbs’ mother is talking to him, she takes off her glasses. Symbolically this may be important as Hemingway may be suggesting that Krebs’ mother cannot see what is wrong with Krebs. She also believes that by praying things will get better which suggests that she has faith in God while Krebs is the opposite. Krebs lack of faith is probably driven by what he has seen in the war. No longer is he the young boy in the photograph at the beginning of the story (Methodist College) now he believes in nothing. Again possibly triggered by the effects of war. In reality all Krebs’ parents want him to do is to reconnect with the world around him. His father even going as far as offering him his car. However Krebs’ has no interest in connecting with others. Again possibly because of what he has witnessed during the war. It is also interesting that Krebs’ tells his mother that he doesn’t love her. Not only is he being honest but for the reader’s benefit it highlights just how detached or isolated Krebs is from those around him. The fact that Krebs also won’t be going to see his father in his office may also be important as it suggests that Krebs believes there is nothing that his family can offer him. They may not have changed but Krebs has.